Stripes’ devoted couch critics are a hardy lot.

They were willing not only to spend their time chatting about the Oscar nominees, but also to spend hours sitting in dark theaters, lit only by the action on screen, with popcorn and stale Junior Mints as their only sustenance.

So settle back, look over our picks and see if you agree with our selections for winners at this year’s Academy Awards.

Best picture“The Aviator”“Finding Neverland”“Million Dollar Baby”“Ray”"Sideways”

Margaret Irish spoke for nearly everyone in two words.

"We’re underwhelmed.”

The only consensus the committee could reach was that there was no clear winner this year for Best Picture. And everyone had an opinion.

Kate, who supports “Finding Neverland,” says, “I just didn’t enjoy the others all the way through. I didn’t think they came together, and I can’t put my finger on why.”

Then there was another problem — three biography flicks to choose from: “Ray,” “Finding Neverland” and “The Aviator.”

“There’s two pics where you’re going into it with already preconceived notions of what you think about that person — Ray Charles (‘Ray’) or Howard Hughes (‘The Aviator’),” Brooks, who supports “Ray,” says. “With the others … you’re going on the story itself. Sometimes that might work against a film.”

Chris feels like there was a big difference in “Ray” and “The Aviator.” “I thought ‘The Aviator’ was beautiful; the music was incredible. … But the supporting characters, with the exception of Alan Alda, really left me very cold. They seemed very one-dimensional. And I think that’s where … ‘Ray’ is going to get the nod.”

Several of the critics were very vocal that the best film released in 2004 wasn’t among the best picture nominees: “Hotel Rwanda.” Pat thinks it was terrible that it didn’t get a nod, and Chris feels it was unusual the movie was forgotten, as the Oscars often rewarded movies about ignored plights.

Margaret Cole also thinks it deserved a nomination. “I thought ‘Hotel Rwanda’ was definitely the best movie I saw this year … and deserved a best picture nomination, and I’m a little puzzled why it didn’t (get one). People obviously saw it, since (Don) Cheadle got nominated…”

But most of the critics ultimately agree that Golden Globe winner “The Aviator” will pick up the award.

“ ‘The Aviator’ is a terrific movie,” Margaret Irish explains. “The movie’s portrayal of Howard Hughes was so sympathetic. You felt so aggrieved for him by the end of it.”

Plus, as Tony adds, you have to consider the epic scale of the movie. “The Academy Awards are all about Hollywood patting themselves on the back, and logically they would reward themselves [for] ‘Look how well we can spend money’ and you’re supposed to be awed by that.”

DirectorMartin Scorsese, “The Aviator”Clint Eastwood, “Million Dollar Baby”Taylor Hackford, “Ray”Alexander Payne, “Sideways”Mike Leigh, “Vera Drake”

There wasn’t much debate among the critics about the Oscar for best director — it centered on previous winner Clint Eastwood for “Million Dollar Baby” and Martin Scorsese for “The Aviator.”

While Pat likes the Eastwood film because of the way the camera moved, most of the committee gave the nod to Scorsese — who has been nominated five times, but has never won the award.

Several of the group feel Scorsese would win for his body of work, but nonetheless “The Aviator” still was the clear winner.

“Of all the movies nominated, [‘The Aviator’] is like a tribute to Hollywood itself. The glamour, the effects, just the sheer visual sumptuousness … he did it beautifully,” Margaret Irish says. The movie made the other nominees seem mundane by comparison, she adds.

For Gerard, it’s all about matching winners. “Just like in ‘03, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ won for Best Picture and best directing, and I think Best Picture and best directing will go to ‘The Aviator’ as well,” he says.

ActorDon Cheadle, “Hotel Rwanda”Johnny Depp, “Finding Neverland”Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Aviator”Clint Eastwood, “Million Dollar Baby”Jamie Foxx, “Ray”

Jumping on the bandwagon with the Golden Globes, the critics overwhelmingly chose Jamie Foxx, who transformed himself into Ray Charles in “Ray.”

And they couldn’t help but continue to lavish praise.

“I think actors and the kind of people who vote for this will appreciate the transformation that Jamie Foxx had to make to totally become immersed in that person,” Brooks predicts. “As a character, you have license to take, and you can interpret (the character) however you want. But when you’re playing someone that everyone else knows at least something about … you have a dual complex to be true to Ray Charles and be true to yourself as an actor.”

Doug cited Don Cheadle as an example of a nominee whose performance paled in comparison to Foxx’s effort. “I saw some interviews with the actual person (hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina) and I wasn’t feeling like Don Cheadle was this actual character, unlike Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Oh man, they (Foxx and Charles) could be like the same person. I think Jamie Foxx will pull this one off.”

The vote wasn’t unanimous, however.

Gerard, who thinks Leonardo DiCaprio will take home Oscar for his portrayal of Howard Hughes, says, “The reason I don’t think Jamie is going to get it is because this is his first lead role, and Leo’s been nominated [twice before] and hasn’t won an Oscar.“

Luisa used the same logic for “Finding Neverland” nominee Johnny Depp, previously up for an Oscar for his role as Capt. Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” and believes he’ll win.

ActressAnnette Bening, “Being Julia” Catalina Sandino Moreno, “Maria Full of Grace”Imelda Staunton, “Vera Drake”Hilary Swank, “Million Dollar Baby”Kate Winslet, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

Five years ago, Hilary Swank and Annette Bening were both Oscar nominees for “Boys Don’t Cry” and best picture winner “American Beauty,” respectively.

Swank took home the golden guy for her portrayal as a cross-dressing young woman.

But the critics believe that this time, it’s Bening’s turn.

“I think the one standout of all of this is Annette Bening (in ‘Being Julia’). … She is just unbelievable in this movie. And it’s the only one I came away from thinking, ‘oh, there’s a winner,’ “ Pat says. Of course, he’s aware that Oscar voters might not agree. “But who knows? Hilary Swank might get it.”

Of course, there’s always a dark horse in a race like this: In this case, it’s Kate Winslet. Chris worries that Bening will be overlooked because Oscar voters seem to prefer younger winners in this category. He fears voters will award four-time nominee Winslet for her role in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for this reason.

Supporting ActorAlan Alda, “The Aviator” Thomas Haden Church, “Sideways”Jamie Foxx, “Collateral”Morgan Freeman, “Million Dollar Baby”Clive Owen, “Closer”

Three former TV stars round out the field for supporting actor. The critics chose the well-known Emmy winner for “M*A*S*H” as the one to bag an Oscar.

“I think [Alan Alda] did a slimy politician perfectly dead on and he made you forget Hawkeye Pierce while doing it,” Chris says. “He was one of the few characters in ‘The Aviator’ that had depth.”

But what about four-time nominee Morgan Freeman, who has never won an Academy Award?

Kate’s answer summed it up for a lot of the critics. “He’s wonderful, he’s awesome — as Morgan Freeman.”

And some of the committee gave their hearts to Thomas Haden Church, whose portrayal of the goofy husband-to-be Jack in “Sideways” turned heads.

Supporting ActressCate Blanchett, “The Aviator” Laura Linney, “Kinsey”Virginia Madsen, “Sideways”Sophie Okonedo, “Hotel Rwanda”Natalie Portman, “Closer”

She’s been the Queen of England, a pointy-eared elf and a journalist, but according to a majority of our critics, Cate Blanchett will win the Oscar for her role as Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator.”

Brooks is definitely in that camp. “I think Cate Blanchett has two things in her favor, which is that the Oscars seem to love her, and [whom] she’s playing …. It’s almost like giving Kate Hepburn another Oscar.”

Margaret Irish also thinks Blanchett’s portrayal is a winner. “Her performance, her impersonation of Katharine Hepburn was just eerie. It transfixed you; you really felt like you were seeing her come back to life.”

Several critics had a soft spot for Natalie Portman in “Closer.” She was the surprise winner at this year’s Golden Globes for the same role. “I think Natalie Portman stands a real good chance of getting it — she’s young, fresh,” Chris says.

Kate Williams contributed to this story.

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